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Emboldened by 2011 Final Four, VCU believes A-10 better basketball home than CAA

RICHMOND — Weddings aren't complete without heartwarming and/or amusing tales of the couple's courtship. Who asked who? First-date faux pas. Proposal anxiety. Did he go to Jared?

Unless you're VCU and the Atlantic 10. Their nuptials Tuesday were cloaked in mystery.

Neither party revealed who made the first move, how long they dated or what sealed the deal. The happy couple toasted the future, danced awkwardly and darted to the stretch limo to start the honeymoon.

Will the union be long-term and prosperous? Is VCU, as A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade gushed, "a perfect fit"? And what of the jilted ex?

Given the ever-changing conference landscape, who knows.

This much is certain: VCU, a basketball school emboldened by its 2011 Final Four appearance, sees the A-10 as an avenue to greater exposure and riches than its previous home, the Colonial Athletic Association, offers.

"The expected returns," VCU president Michael Rao said during a news conference at the Rams' basketball arena, "are far greater than the short-term losses."

Rao's bean-counters had better be right, because the initial financial hit is considerable, especially for an athletic department that doesn't rake in millions from football.

VCU forfeits Final Four payouts of approximately $5 million — the money remains with the CAA — and pays a $250,000 exit fee and $700,000 entry fee. Moreover, interim athletic director David Benedict projects $150,000 in additional travel costs each year as the Rams shift leagues immediately for the 2012-13 academic year.

But the A-10 has alluring charms. There's exposure in media markets such as New York (Fordham), Philadelphia (Saint Joseph's and LaSalle), Pittsburgh (Duquesne), Cincinnati (Xavier), Washington (George Washington),St. Louis (St. Louis University) and Indianapolis (newcomer Butler).

Perhaps most important to VCU, there are the conference's 28 at-large NCAA basketball tournament bids in the last 15 years. That trumps the CAA's four over the same span.

Now I would argue that with their resources and recent success, coach Shaka Smart's Rams are built for serious at-large consideration regardless of conference affiliation. But there's no denying the numbers.

Indeed, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said it's always difficult when someone leaves you "for something better."

Struck by the comment, I asked Yeager, the only commish the CAA has known, if he believes VCU is better off in the A-10.

"Does it matter?" he said. "They're gone. Time will tell."

Yeager's teleconference embodied his day. He spoke from LaGuardia Airport, where he had hoped to find quiet in the US Airways Club. Alas, the lounge is under renovation, and Yeager's connection from the busy terminal sounded like an astronaut talking from space.

Earlier in the day, visiting league member Hofstra, Yeager was more animated speaking to the blog "Defiantly Dutch."

"I didn't sleep very well last night in the hotel. … I've been doing this a long time at this place," he said. "Got a lot invested in what we built. And people saying bad things about you. Your girlfriend just dumped you, your wife just said, 'Ah, I'm gonna go hook up with somebody else.' Yeah, it's not a good day."

And it could get worse if, as expected, Old Dominion makes a premature, football-fueled leap to Conference USA. But at least charter member George Mason, a 2006 Final Four program, thought enough of the CAA to remain, despite overtures from the A-10.

Some would have you believe that the A-10 selected the Rams instead of the Patriots, that Mason's announcement last week was disingenuous face-saving after learning it wasn't on the A-list. Sorry, not buying.

In fact, were the Patriots to reconsider their decision in a year, here's guessing McGlade would weave the Welcome Wagon through rush-hour traffic to Fairfax.

With the A-10 losing Temple to the Big East and Charlotte to Conference USA, McGlade is well-acquainted with realignment's whims, and Rao acknowledged that conferences nationwide will be "in a state of flux for the foreseeable future."

For example, if the Big East basketball faction of Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Marquette and DePaul split from that conference's football-centric schools, might they make a play for the A-10's Xavier and/or Dayton? Or will the additions of Butler and VCU stabilize the A-10?

"I don't think any of us standing right here can predict what's going to happen with conference realignment," Benedict said. "Our focus is on controlling our own destiny and joining a league that we felt was more aligned with our goals."

In that vein: The A-10 gives 75 percent of NCAA tournament revenue to the school that earned it, while sharing 25 percent. The CAA's formula is more equitable.

Does that ratchet up expectations?

"Absolutely," Rao said, "and we wouldn't want it any other way."

Pressure's on, Shaka.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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